PICA offers a range of different classes which are concentrated in the humanities and creative arts. Most classes are offered in English but students of semester-length programs are required to take one French language class. Soon, students having a higher level in French will be able to take additional classes in French. All classes are U.S. accredited by Whittier College and thus transfer to home universities typically poses no problems for our students. The following is a list of PICA study abroad class descriptions.

Art History


This course examines diverse artistic movements and major works of painting and sculpture, beginning with the neoclassical creations from the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon the 1st and ending with Rodin’s oneiric style and the almost “abstract” aspects of Monet’s last works, the Water lilies.
The course is based on the study of the foundations of modernity in painting and in sculpture, as well as on the juxtaposition of the internal contradictions of the 19th century, which was confronted with major industrialization and profound social and political transformations.
Close attention will be paid to the impressionist (naturalist) movement and all that otherwise founds 20th century art, such as Japonism, “black romanticism” – which spanned the entire century, from Géricault to Victor Hugo – orienting creations towards imagination and dreams.
An emphasis will also be placed on the “post-impressionist” generation, particularly on symbolist art and the “metaphysical” creations of Gauguin.

Modernism: Art in Paris in the 20th Century

The goal of this course is to study major artistic works and movements in 20th century Paris, from the first essential creations of Matisse and Picasso between 1905 and 1907 to the “monochrome” revolution and the great transformations of the 1970s, which are the basis for all end of the century creations.
Other than Picasso and Matisse (studied for their works and their great influence on art), this course is based on the study of the paintings and sculptures of several other great artists of the era, such as Duchamp, Léger, Chagall, Chirico, Brancusi, Giacometti, Dali, Mondrian, Balthus, Pollack, Jorn, Yves Klein and others, including a number of women.
The course particularly examines two major revolutions in 20th century art: the “cubist revolution” and the “surrealist revolution,” both “born in Paris” and particularly influential in the art world. An emphasis will also be placed on the theoretical basis and evolution of abstract painting.
Finally, several “revolutionary” innovations/inventions will be examined, including: collages (papier mâché), the influence of African and Oceanic arts on artistic creation from the very beginning of the century, creations based on “ready made” objects and the numerous upheavals they cause in 20th century art.

Renaissance Art

This course is an introduction to the art of the Renaissance and Mannerism in Italy (roughly 1400-1600). While providing an overview of the Renaissance and its major artists (Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo…), the course focuses on the following thematics : love, beauty and the body.
During the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, a new importance is given to man in the universe. Meanwhile, the representation of the body becomes central in the figurative arts. Artists are more and more concerned with the rendering of the human form. They try to define the ideal proportions, they think about the beauty of the body in movement, about the charm of colours, etc. Key notions – such as classicism, naturalism, realism, mannerism… – will therefore be studied. The rediscovery of Antiquity is at the very heart of this artistic revolution. Artists are both inspired by the stylistic forms inherited from the Greeks and the Romans, and by the subjects taken from the mythology. Venus, Apollo, Cupid and other deities are therefore frequently portrayed in Renaissance art. The love affairs of the ancient gods serve as pretexts for the depiction of beautiful nude creatures.

Art & Architecture in Paris

The goal of this course is to study the evolution and innovative character of Parisian architecture from the classical period to the first great modern metallic creations, from 1550 to 1870.
After a historical and theoretical presentation of major architectural issues and their foundations in antiquity, the course follows an essentially chronological path from the Renaissance to the end of the 2nd Empire, examining religious and civil architecture.  Subjects include the transformations of urban structures in Paris from the 18th century up until the creation of the “modern city” by the Baron Haussmann.
A particular emphasis will be placed on the foundations of “classicism” in France and the study of Versailles, as well and two architectural revolutions that were fundamental for modern architecture: the “revolutionary” architecture of the second half of the 18th century and the metallic architecture of the first half of the 19th century.
Finally, the course will examine the first universal expositions and their essential role in the evolution of world architecture, making connections between Paris and Rome, Paris and London or other capitals. This will shed light on the originality of Parisian architecture and reveal how Paris was consistently a pioneer in terms of architectural modernity.

History of Photography

This course introduces students to the history of 20th century photography with an emphasis on the cultural, artistic, and social importance of the medium. We will look at different types of photography such as social documentary, photojournalism and fine art photography with a focus on photographers working in France and Europe.

Contemporary Art History

In this course, you will be engaged in an analysis and pictorial survey of contemporary artistic expression, some of the most diverse, politically contentious and maddening periods in the history of art from 1845. To this end, you will first seek out the origins of Modernism by looking at the late 19th and early 20th centuries before concentrating on art after WWII. While exploring the major European contemporary art movements such as the Ecole de Paris, the Lyrical Abstraction, The New Realists, Cobra, etc., we will observe the Parisian art scene today.
From inside the art world of painters and sculptors, you will also follow the evolution of the many aesthetic ideas, theories and compositional techniques of contemporary artists as well as how their work was critiqued and contested by art critics, professional and public alike.
Throughout this exploration, you will always be seeking to understand the impact Modernism and postmodernism has had, both as a reflection of and a commentary upon, contemporary Man, his mind, soul, and troubled society. And to measure and evaluate the impressive legacy of Modernism, you will be visiting the major museum, galleries and foundations dedicated to modern and contemporary art.

History of Fashion

This two-part course examines how and why Paris became the centre of the contemporary fashion world. In part one, through reading history and cultural theory and visiting certain key sites in Paris, students will develop an in-depth understanding of a city which is often considered to have been the template for modern urbanism – the ‘capital of the nineteenth century’, to use Walter Benjamin’s expression. In part two of the course, the emphasis shifts: the rise of the great couture houses becomes the focus. When did couture emerge, how was it transformed in the twentieth century, what is the place of couture today with the rise of ecological concern and with it sustainable fashion? How did the couture house fit in with the changing cultural environment in Paris, with wider aesthetic, social, and moral concerns? Students will develop an understanding of the city’s evolution from the seventeenth century onwards and have a strong sense of the businesses and institutions which made the city a centre of global industry.

Creative Writing

A practical and workshop class that introduces writers to the elements of poetry, fiction and drama, this course is open to beginning and continuing writers. Class work will include reading the work of established writers in three different genres, studying the craft of writing, and will involve considerable creative writing within and outside the boundaries of those genres. There are no prerequisites.
Students in this course will participate in a variety of possible activities, including but not limited to: in-class writing, group writing, workshop, technique-specific practices, reading and group discussion, and more. These activities are meant to support the purpose of the class, which is to familiarize the student with the techniques of writing, poetry, fiction and drama.  Due to time constraints, we will be focusing primarily on fiction and poetry.

Film Studies

French Cinema

The objective of this course is to present the evolution of French cinema after World War II. We will study the complexities of the New Wave, the controversial movement at the origin of contemporary French cinema. Our approach will be grounded in cultural history and related to other research areas such as political and social history, and the history of the media. Excerpts of cult films and the study of major schools and authors will provide the basis for students to examine the great esthetic movements of the New Wave of the 1950s and 1960s, the poetic and political logic of the 1970s, and the more graphic and post-modern approaches of the 1990s and 2000s. Students can thereby acquire an excellent background in contemporary cinema.


19th Century French Literature

The course will introduce students to key French literature of the nineteenth century paying particular attention to the social, political and literary contexts of literary works.  We will study the different forms of the nineteenth-century novel: romantic, realist and naturalist works of Hugo, Balzac, Flaubert and Zola as well as short stories of de Maupassant and poetry of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine.

20th Century French Literature

This course aims to introduce students to central ideas and concepts underlying twentieth-century French literature and to the work of a number of major twentieth-century authors. The thematic content of the course focuses on an examination in these works of the nature of art and the relationship between self, reality and language. Students are invited to explore these ideas in relation to the set texts. The main authors will be: Apollinaire, Jarry, Gide, Camus, Sartre, Ionesco, Beckett, Duras

French Language Classes

All students will be expected to take a French language course. Exceptions may be made for bilingual students. Our partner school, l’Institut de langue et de culture françaises, offers classes at all levels from absolute beginners through to advanced levels. Students will be placed into the appropriate level following an entrance examination.

Studio Arts


This course is designed for the student who is looking for new ways to present or bind their prints, photos, drawings, etc. Learn the basic bookbinding techniques skills through classical way to bind. Learn structures for binding existing single pages of art that cannot be folded and bound in the traditional manner, as well as structures to compensate for varying thicknesses of pages and various pages size. Learn how to prepare and create covering materials. Students leave with several finished books, plus the skills necessary to continue binding at home : cutting, folding, sewing, and gluing. Learn about hand tools and materials used in bookbinding, as well as how to use the standing press and board shear. Students create a personal and unique artist book using the techiques learned.

Black & White Photography

The primary goal of this class is to establish a solid foundation of photographic knowledge in black and white photography techniques. This will include camera usage, ability to make good exposures in camera, composition skills, film developing skills and darkroom techniques for making black and white enlargements. Additionally, students will be exposed to a broad cross section of professional photographic practice in black and white photography to establish a foundation of knowledge concerning the history of photography.   Looking at these professional images as well as the work of the students, students will develop critical and analytical skills to better understand and evaluate all photographic images—how and why they work formally but also how we arrive at a clearer and deeper understanding of the meaning and interest of photographs. This skill will not only enable students to better appreciate and understand the photographic work they encounter in books, magazines, galleries and museums but it will also help them create stronger and more interesting images themselves.

Digital Photography

Working with digital cameras, students will be set the task of discovering a deeper and more profound Paris that goes beyond the standard tourist sites and shots. Working digitally will allow us the freedom to shoot large quantities of images so students can truly develop their own personal vision of Paris that goes beyond the clichés. In addition to discussing at length the foundations of how one makes visually striking images through mastery of apertures, shutter speeds, light and composition, we will spend much classtime out in the city discovering different neighborhoods that students new to Paris might not always discover on their own. Rather than simply trying to capture photos which record some of the famous sites and monuments, students will be asked to push further and capture their own experience as foreigners discovering the people and places of Paris.

Non-Silver Photography

This class will bring students back to the origins of photography where they can investigate some of the earliest photo processes and techniques (cyanotypes, calotypes, photograms, pinhole cameras). Mixing our own emulsions, building one or more of our own cameras, we’ll gain a sense of early photography which was part alchemy and science and part painting and drawing. We will likely also use some contemporary equipment (digital cameras, scanners and inkjet or laser printers) but ultimately this course is about the artists’ hand being central to the photographs created (something we see much less of in the typical contemporary practice of photography). Students will, of necessity, need to adjust their rhythm and approach to making photographs as these techniques are more time consuming and more process-oriented given that we must mix up the emulsions and coat papers before we can make photographs. By stepping away from prepared emulsions and already existing, mass-produced cameras, students will be able to personalize their choices and can, in this way, have full control of the images they present and how they look.

Figure Drawing

This course is designed to lead each individual student through the basics of life drawing. We will be working from the nude model in fixed poses and in movement. The models will be constantly changed to allow the student to discover new solutions to transmit visual information.


This course teaches the basic traditional techniques used to make prints. No prior experience is needed to learn how to make multiple, identical images. Students will be taught how to print by hand and with printing presses to create small editions of their work. Materials ranging from wood to metal to plastic will be carved, cut, etched, and assembled to allow each student to discover the many ways of obtaining images that have radically different “looks” and styles. Experimentation is encouraged so that each student can understand how to best exploit the different methods available in order to successfully translate a sketch into a powerful printed document. This course will not only help students find the techniques that correspond to what they wish to express but will allow them to better understand the technical and artistic choices made by printmakers of the past. The history, physics and chemistry of every technique introduced will be discussed. Demonstrations of all methods, study of original prints from the teacher’s collection and group reviews will be held regularly to maximize the exchange of ideas.

Sketchbook in Paris

The course aims to make use of the unparalleled resource that is the city of Paris in an introduction to basic issues in the discipline of drawing. The mental concentration required while drawing gives students a direct, concrete understanding of the forms being observed–forms that are, in this case, of great historical, cultural and artistic interest. Instruction focuses on efficient visual note-taking: the quick rendering of form and volume in space, the depiction of light, the suggestion of complexity and energy using basic drawing strategies. Students are always encouraged to find their own personal techniques and styles of observation.